Sunday, March 19, 2017


The Promise of Linux

I've been hearing about Linux for over twenty years. The first time I looked into it, it was more of a "roll your own" operating system, you had to build and compile the kernel from scratch. I decided it was too much work at the time.  Periodically, over the years, I looked at it again, even tried "test driving" a few different versions. Ultimately, the lack of documentation, and the steep learning curve, dissuaded me from taking it too seriously.

I have an aging computer, the last of a series of older machines with Windows XP installed, and for one reason or another, the last remaining working computer is also one of the slowest that I've had. So in addition to the hardware being years out of date, the Operating System is showing signs of age. Newer web browsers don't work right, forcing me to use older versions that many websites declare "are no longer supported." A new computer is in the works, but not in the immediate future.

Part of my motivation for investigating Linux again, is Microsoft's total abandonment of loyal users like me. I have been using Windows for over twenty years, since Windows 3.1. Windows 10 isn't Windows anymore, looks more like the Apple desktop, which I hate, since it's counter-intuitive to what I am already accustomed to. I've already put in enough time on the Windows learning curve for over twenty years, I don't want to have to learn it all over again. I just want it to work. I don't want to fight with "versions" or drivers, or any other goddam thing. I just want to use it. I got things to do, and learning a new Operating System isn't one of them.

I also object to Microsoft's "business model," where you "rent" software on a yearly contract, instead of buying it outright, and possibly paying for upgrades. I've bought MS Office a few times, now they want me to pay for it every year, in perpetuity? No. Not going to happen.

So, Apple is out, Microsoft is out, what's left? Linux.

Started looking for a version that was easy to use, and would run on my aging and obsolete computer. One of the things I found was "Puppy Linux," which will run from a thumb drive. Which is a good thing, because my goddam CD player doesn't work anymore. Fortunately, whoever designed this machine, made the BIOS in such a way that it's possible to boot from a USB thumb drive.
Linux comes in many versions, and Puppy Linux comes in several versions, as well. The first one I tried was version 4.30, because it was easy. It worked fine, was lightweight, seemed to run fast, installed in a few minutes, and then i tried to access the internet. That actually worked, too, except the browser was so outdated, I was unable to login to my email, Google+, Facebook, or any other site that required a secure login. In order to update the browser, I had to update the version of Linux. (sound familiar?)

Tried a Debian install first, and after 3 hours gave up, I don't think there was enough room on the thumb drive, I have no idea. The first attempt took about ten minutes, this was taking hours, and I don't know why.

The next attempt was with "Slacko Linux 6.3.2" based on the famous slackware. Well, they said it was famous. I never heard of it.
Ok, did this, now try booting it up. OK, it installed in less than ten minutes, BUT, there seems to be some kind of video driver problem? click on something, it opens a window, but the window is missing stuff, there are buttons, but the buttons don't have any labels, can't figure out what I'm looking at or how to fix it. Very fucking frustrating. The good news is, it's on a fucking thumb drive, and I can just reformat and move on to:

Installed Tahr 6.0.5 PAE
everything installed OK. Tahrpup is based on Ubuntu. Help file is completely useless. Internet installed seamlessly.
The built in browser was a firefox clone called "Palemoon." the problem with it is that websites like Google and duckduckgo didn't recognize it. Kept getting weird errors. The forum had some "solutions" to fix this issue, mostly blaming the unfairness of life, etc... the actual "fix" was convoluted and you had to do it separately for each site, and ultimately, didn't fucking work.
Installed Firefox. imported bookmarks via a second thumb drive. This worked ok. Started using the browser, logged into yahoo mail, Facebook, Google Plus. I noticed it runs a lot slower than previous attempts and previous browsers. Sometimes it freezes up for half an hour!!!! this shitting thing makes windows look good!!!!

From the "Puppy Linux" official website

Puppy Linux advantage

    Ready to use → all tools for common daily computing usage already included.
    Ease of use → grandpa-friendly certified ™
    Relatively small size → 200 MB or less.
    Fast and versatile.
    Customizable within minutes → remasters.
    Different flavors → optimized to support older computers, newer computers.
    Variety → hundreds of derivatives (“puplets”), one of which will surely meet your needs.

1. Let's take them one at a time. Yes, it's ready to use, and Yes, there is some version of a word processor, a web browser, and a bunch of other commonly used stuff. But, it's all stuff you never heard of, and it doesn't work quite the same as whatever you were using before. Again with the learning curve. And it's a learning curve for each and every program, and even things like Firefox, which I am intimately familiar with, is different under Linux.

2. Ease of Use. No, it's not easy to use. Easy to install, yes, it's done in about ten minutes, unlike windows, that used to take hours just to get back to where you were before it crashed. They jokingly say "grandpa friendly certified." I'm a grandpa, and it's not friendly, its not easy to use, the help files are useless, and documentation, if you can find it, may not even apply to whatever version you are using.

3. Relatively Small Size. Yes and no. The initial installation is small, yes. Then you install a browser that actually works, and this inflates the installation quite a bit. There is a swap file on the thumb drive that takes the place of the swap file on the Hard Drive. So you are restricted to the speed of your USB card, internal memory, mother board, etc., etc.

4. Fast and Versatile. Meh. Not that fast, in some cases, much slower. "versatile" is a relative term. Compared to other versions of Linux? Maybe, I have no idea. Compared to Windows? There's the fucking learning curve again. It took me a week to set the clock in Linux. Again, finding relevant documentation is nearly impossible, again, the internal help files are not very helpful. Followed one of the many procedures I found for setting the clock, nothing worked! Then, maybe a week later, I had at it again. I'm not even sure what I did, something to do with the "time zone?" Now it works! What a fucking pain in the ass!

5. Customizable withing minutes. Seriously? I'm afraid to "customize" anything, because it might stop working altogether. If it took a week to figure out setting the goddam clock, why would I even attempt to customize it? You've got to be kidding me.

So, let me sum it up here:

Pros & Cons:

Puppy Linux
It's not Windows!
It's not Apple!
Will run on a thumb drive!
Has a FREE native program for just about everything

It's not as fast as the claims
Some shit is hard to get working
Some of the browsers just don't work right
It's always "behind the curve"
The learning curve is brutal
The documentation sucks

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